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Bulls keep No. 3 seed in win only Tom Thibodeau could love

If the NBA season had ended Monday, the Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks would be squaring off in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

There might not be enough blindfolds to go around.

In one of the uglier games of the season, the Bulls manhandled the Bucks 87-71 at the United Center for their sixth victory in their last seven games.

Then again, ugly is in the eye of the beholder.

‘‘I think we had seven turnovers in the first quarter, but I liked a lot of the things we did in the
beginning of the game,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. ‘‘The decisions were the right decisions. We mishandled, they were aggressive with their double team in the post and we mistimed a couple of plays, but I thought they were the right plays.

‘‘That’s something we have to work on, but overall I thought we played a very good game.’’

Thibodeau never has been much into aesthetics anyway.

The result left the Bulls (36-21) sitting in the No. 3 seed and the Bucks in the No. 6 seed in the conference. Don’t assume that matchup in the playoffs just yet, though. With 25 games left, the Bulls’ lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers is only one game.

If the Bulls want to make sure they keep that spot, then they might want to start looking in the mirror.

‘‘I think we’re OK with where we’re at,’’ guard Jimmy Butler said. ‘‘I’m not going to say we like it
because we know we can be much better on both ends of the floor. And we’ve gotta get it turned around
before the playoffs start, actually. But I think we’re moving in the right direction.’’

Asked about the Bulls’ intensity, Butler pointed the finger at himself and his teammates rather than at Thibodeau.

‘‘All of it is on us because we’re the guys who step out there and play,’’ said Butler, who had 11 points and nine rebounds. ‘‘Thibs can only do so much. I think it’s on us to be ready whenever we go out there to play 48 minutes, if not more. And just go the entire game from start to finish. Thibs can call plays, but it’s up to us to bring the intensity every night.’’

There was some intensity against the Bucks, but not from
everyone.

Tony Snell scored a game-high 20 points and Nikola Mirotic added 16 points and 14 rebounds., but Derrick Rose had his second shaky game since the All-Star break.

And ‘‘shaky’’ is an understatement. Rose was 1-for-13 from the field, including 1-for-7 from three-point range, and scored only eight points.

That wouldn’t be good enough for the Bulls to win on most nights, especially considering they played without Taj Gibson and Kirk Hinrich, both of whom were at home with flulike symptoms, and committed 19 turnovers.

It was enough on this night against the Bucks, but Rose still was answering questions about why he took the entire All-Star break off, then missed the Bulls’ first practice back last week.

‘‘You take five days off any job, you gotta get back in a rhythm,’’ Rose said. ‘‘That’s the most days I took off in two years. I’m not
worried about that, missing shots. I’ve shot worse before, so it’s nothing big.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com
Twitter: @suntimes_hoops